In all my years of modifying cars, one topic seems to come up fairly regularly. That topic is how to go about modifying your car on a budget. First you have to realize that motorsports are easily one of the most expensive hobbies you can undertake. It's up there with owning a nice boat. Everybody loves fast cars. Everybody loves a nice boat. Yet not many people own either one. The prime reason being money.
So here are some basic tips I'd like to pass on...
1. Do Your Own Work. Whenever possible, do your own labor. Labor costs can break any budget. With a basic set of hand tools and a shop manual, you'd be surprised at what can be accomplished. Even if you are a complete newbie to working on cars, you probably know a friend or coworker who'd be
willing to lend a hand. And the 12 pack your buddy charges is far cheaper than the going hourly rate for shop labor ($50-$150/hr). If you don't know anybody, try the forums. I have lent people assistance in the past, and have had that assistance returned. You make friends, you get the work done, you save money. A tough formula to beat.
2. Buy Used Parts When You Can. Many budget minded modders head straight for the discount and eBay parts. All in the name of trying to save a few bucks. They usually are quick to say things like "It's just as good as ____" or "You're only buying a name anyway". Which, in some cases may be true, but realistically, quality name-brand parts can be had used for similar prices (or lower) to brand new knock off parts. Things like intakes, exhausts, wheels... these are low wear items, there's no reason not to pick these up used when you can. Trust me, once it's on the car nobody will know the difference. And let's not kid, you know you really want the good stuff.
3. Make a Wish List. Make a list of all the parts you want to have on your car. Then add to that list acceptable alternatives. For example, let's say you really want the Nismo intake, but would be willing to go with and Injen. So you write them down, along with what the MSRP is and the lowest retail price you can find it for. Write down every item and its price that you are interested in. Hopefully you've done this on your computer, so you can update it. OK, so now you print out a copy that you keep in your glove box, and keep the other copy next to your computer. What this does is allow you to spot a deal should it come out of the blue. It's hard to keep all the prices in your head, and often times we can walk on a great deal, or get suckered by a deal that we thought was sweet at the time. Scour the net, and your local papers daily looking for your parts. You can find a lot if you're patient.
4. Spend Your Money Once. This is an old proverb, but so very true. When you buy cheap crap, it often lets you down. So you're left with buying another one. In the end you spent more money than just buying quality in the first place. Also don't buy things "to tide you over until I get...". I've met too many people rolling around on cheap rims saying "I just put these on until I can save up for my Volks." This is a dumb move. It's obvious, but it can bite us all. Just set your goal and work toward it. Don't allow instant gratification to sidetrack you.
5. Don't Slack on Routine Maintenance. As strange as it may sound, we as car freaks can often put off routine maintenance in the quest for power. We hear an odd squeak, and know deep down we should fix it... but your soooo close to having enough money for that sweet exhaust, and you promise yourself that you'll look into it just as soon as you get that exhaust. Simply put, cars don't heal. Anything that is wrong will simply get worse, cost you even more money to fix, and set you further back in your goals.
6. Copy Cat. To be a trend setter or stretch the performance envelope costs money. A tuning shop may build and rebuild a setup a half dozen times to get the right combo. You really can't afford to swap out 3-4 different sets of headers. Nor can you afford the trial-and-error experimentation that is often required. But you can profit from the work of others by duplicating a successful build. In the quest of trying to be "unique" or have "the first ____ in the States" the import crowd has lost sight of the ultimate goal, which is to improve the performance of your car. There is no shame in copying success.
7. Don't Buy Cheap Tools. As your skill increases you'll be doing a lot more of your own work. For that you will need tools. Don't buy garbage Kmart sets where you get 11 billion pieces for $11.99. These are junk. If you buy good tools they will last forever. You don't have to break the bank, just get decent stuff. The words "Made in the USA" and "Forged" are a must. Powder cast Taiwanese stuff is just waiting to break. For the garage amateur it's hard to beat Craftsman. It has a lifetime warranty and can be found used and on sale quite regularly. If you can't afford a set, you should get a good ratchet and some sockets at a minimum, fill in the rest as you can. This may sound harsh, but don't loan out your tools. A lot of you out there know what I mean, those that don't will find out.
8. With Extreme Power, Comes an Extreme Budget. If you have dreams of building a pavement chewing 1,500 HP beast. Then just forget about doing it on the cheap. End of discussion. There's an old (and wise) saying in the car world "Fast, Cheap or Reliable. Pick any 2."
Feel free to add your input and any tips you have picked up along the way.
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